On April 11, 1981, Sheila "Sassy" Sharp, fourteen years of age, returned from a next-door sleepover to her family's residence, Cabin 28 at the Keddie Resort outside Keddie, northern California.
Blood spattered every available surface of the main room.
Her mother had been bound with duct tape and wire and beaten to the point where she could barely be recognized. She was naked, though a blanket covered her body. Her brother John and his visiting friend, Dana, were likewise bound and slaughtered. They remained fully clothed, though they had been tortured. The killers had used kitchen knives and a claw hammer on the bodies, the furniture, and the walls. One knife was bent from the force. Sheila's younger brothers and a visiting boy remained alive, untouched physically, in another room.
Her younger sister, Tina, could not be found.
People in neighboring cottages had heard nothing.
The rustic Keddie Lodge did brisk business, and the thirty-three Keddie Cabins, established in 1910, housed both vacationing and semi-permanent residents. The Sharps moved into Cabin 28 in November of 1980. The family consisted of Glenna "Sue" Sharp, 36, her daughters Sheila and Tina, then thirteen, and her sons John (fifteen), Ricky (ten), and Greg (seven). Sheila had recently had a child, fathered by her boyfriend, Richard Meeks. She had given the baby up for adoption.
On April 10, John Sharp and his friend Dana Wingate, seventeen, hitchhiked from Quincy, California to Keddie. Another boy, Justin, a friend of the younger Sharps, was sleeping over that night. Sheila, of course, was next door. A college student, Craig Walters, claimed (much later) that he drove John and Dana part of the way, but this has never been confirmed.
Investigators place the time of death rather broadly between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
The family's welfare status bolstered rumours the murders had some connection to drug dealing or Glenna Sharp's supposed shady sexual life. Both John and Dana reportedly used marijuana, and according to an acquaintance had stolen a stash of either LSD or marijuana earlier that year. No verifiable evidence emerged, however, to confirm the victims had any substantive dealings with drugs. Forensic investigations revealed that the victims' bodies were free of such substances. Despite allegations, police found no reason to believe Ms. Sharp was a prostitute or even especially promiscuous. The Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 1990s had not yet reached its full frenzy, but inevitably, whispers spread the word that the deaths had an occult or demonic motive. Had the crime occurred a few years later and in a more evangelical community, such rumours may well have guided the investigation.
Police stayed with the facts, which provided bafflingly few leads. The young survivors said they heard nothing, though Justin would later claim he saw some of the events. Under hypnosis, he described two killers.
Police questioned a Keddie cottage resident, Martin "Marty" Smartt and his acquaintance, John "Bo" Boudee. Smartt's wife, Marilyn, claimed her husband had been burning something in their wood stove around two a.m. that morning. Smartt left the area the day the murders were discovered, though he returned on April 13. Some time later, he and Boudee moved to a hotel in Klamoth Falls, Oregon. His wife alleges that a jacket that might have been Tina's was found in their house. The actual origins and owner of the jacket have not been established.
Smartt, apparently unprompted, told police that he had recently lost a claw hammer. That claim also raised suspicions.
Police questioned a number of other possible suspects, including Sheila's ex-boyfriend. They found nothing conclusive. Comprehensible motives remain elusive. That neither the people next door-- fifteen feet away-- nor the children in the next room heard a violent massacre begs for explanation. One also wonders where the killers cleaned themselves, undetected. They would have been covered with blood.
The case grew cold. People abandoned the resort, and in 1984 the owners put it up for sale. No one bought it.
Outside of California, the story received relatively little coverage. Other international and national events took precedence. Then-president Ronald Reagan had just returned to the White House following John Hinckley's unsuccessful assassination attempt. In the United States, the Atlanta Child Murders occupied the unsolved crime spots, while Canadian newspapers followed the (still) unexplained poisoning of infants at Toronto Sick Children's Hospital. Only with time would the gruesome killings at Keddie become better-known.
Three years later and fifty miles away, on April 22, 1984, a bottle collector in Feather Falls, Butte County, made a grisly discovery that provided police with further evidence but brought them no closer to solving the case. While bottle-hunting in the woods, he noticed a skull, picked clean by animals.
The skull belonged to Tina Sharp. No one has as yet uncovered a body. Before official identification was made, an anonymous caller told the Butte County sheriff's dispatch that the skull was Tina's.
Survivors held a memorial service for the girl in 2002.
The case received fresh attention in 2008 when the film The Strangers hit theaters. By torturing the phrase, Based on a True Story, the Hollywood publicity machine inspired viewers to look for the film's source. They had no hope of finding it; the "true story" consisted of the writer's childhood experience. Some unidentified people came to his door and asked to see someone who didn't live in his house. Then they left. Never mind the truth; people proffered both the Manson Family Murders and the Keddie killings as the reality behind the thriller. While this connection made more people aware of the murders, it also tainted the public perception. In the post-Blair Witch world, many people assumed the entire Keddie tale was imaginary, a viral marketing campaign.
The very real resort where the killing occurred suffered years of neglect by locals and abuse by transients. Thrill-seekers regularly broke into Cabin 28, and stories spread of apparitions and mysterious sounds. In the twenty-first century, the owners refurbished the lodge and most of the cabins and started to rent them out again. They also demolished the long-abandoned murder site. With the passage of time, the Keddie Resort once again seems free of ghosts and hospitable to visitors.
Whether the story that haunts Keddie will ever have a conclusion remains unknown.
Update: In 2016, new clues became known to the public. A treasure-hunter with a metal detector turned over a claw hammer that he discovered near the site of the murders. Sheriff Greg Hagwood says that the hammer "would have been intentionally put" in the location where it was found (Quoted in McDonald). It is the sort of hammer that would have been used in the killings. Around the same time, special investigator Mike Gamberg found the recording of the 1984 anonymous call that correctly identified Tina Sharp's remains. The recording had never been examined, but Gamberg notes that voice-print technology might reveal new information.
Thanks to avalyn for pointing me to this information.
Kevin Fagan. "Exorcising Ghosts of the Past." The San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 2001. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2001/06/10/MN128511.DTL.
Steve Gibson. "Bones found are those of girl linked to triple slaying in Pluman[sic] County." The Sacramento Bee, June 21, 1984.
Krystal Hawkins. "Haunted Places: Keddie Resort, Calif.: The Unsolved Nightmare in Cabin 28." Tru-TV. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/classics/haunted_places/2.html
Josh Hancock. Cabin 28: The Keddie Murders. http://keddiemurdersfilm.com/.
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Dan McDonald. "More evidence uncovered in Keddie murders case." Plumas County News April 6, 2016.
"Memorial Held for Tina Sharp." Plumas County News October 28, 2002.
Victoria Metcalf. "Cabin 28: 25-year-old slaying still haunt people, community." Plumas County News April 11, 2006.